On January 3, 2017, bamboo crusader Linda Garland passed away in Australia surrounded by her immediate family and close friends. Bamboo Living honors her invaluable contribution to bamboo design and architecture and her dedication to environmentalism.
Linda Garland was my friend and my inspiration. I cried last week when I learned of her passing, and I find myself choking up as I write these words.
I first met Linda Garland in 1994 at her home in Bali. Her home was the first bamboo building I had ever experienced. It was majestic and beautiful, like Linda. Earlier that year, her home had graced the cover of Architectural Digest. My friend, Emerald, was working with Linda planning the 4th World Bamboo Congress. Linda was going to host the congress at her estate the following year so I joined them for a working session. Linda embraced me from the start with her warmth, and I saw right away the deep commitment she held for environmental stewardship.
Linda had already developed a crafts industry in Bali using bamboo for furniture in place of the dwindling rainforest hardwoods. Her furniture was beautiful. For the meeting, we sat on a couch of Linda’s design made of giant bamboo. The couch was the size of a queen bed with bamboo backs on three sides and we were surrounded by piles of pillows for back support. It was my first experience with the live-in couch which she had made famous. Her client list had included international stars like Sting and Mick Jagger but she wasn't wowed by celebrity. Linda was practical and down to earth, yet everything she did was consummately beautiful!
I had hoped to attend the World Bamboo Congress at Linda’s home that next year but was asked to join the Board of Trustees for Kripalu Center (the largest yoga retreat facility in America), and the meeting schedules conflicted. I had lived at Kripalu in my twenties and thirties and it was going through a critical phase with the departure of its founder, so I chose to attend that board meeting.
However, my friend Jeffree Trudeau who had been the builder with me of my home on Maui, did attend the conference at Linda’s estate, even helping to run some of the workshops. Jeffree returned from the conference to Maui deeply inspired and called me to join him in designing and building the first permitted bamboo home in the United States for Kutira Decosterd, the mutual friend with whom I had traveled to Bali the year before. That call was the beginning of Bamboo Living.
In 1998, Linda and I were together in Costa Rica for the 5th World Bamboo Congress in San Jose’. I flew in a few days early to begin work with the international building code committee established by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) that was being headed up by Dutch Professor Jules Janssen. I had gotten myself and Kurt Stochlia, the Vice President of the International Code Council (ICC), invited onto the committee to help us with our groundbreaking work of writing the first bamboo building code standard for the US. That conference was also the first time that Bamboo Living presented at a world conference - as we had by then completed several of the first-ever fully permitted bamboo homes built in the US.
At the end of the conference, Linda invited me to join her and a few close friends for a trip to the Osa Peninsula in a remote area on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. On the flight there and during our days in the jungle, we were able to strategize together how to advance the use of bamboo for construction in the world. To overcome bamboo’s image of the poor man’s timber, Linda recommended that we focus on getting a few high-profile clients for Bamboo Living that would lend panache to the material around the world. I said we would pursue that and did. We expanded our client list to include Shep Gordon, the star of Mike Myers last movie, the rockstar Sammy Hagar, the Academy Award-winning actress Barbara Hersey, and the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar. We talked about getting a book published and I suggested the title “Grow Your Own Home”, which grew into the seminal work by Architect Simón Vélez about his bamboo building designs including his groundbreaking pavilion for the Hanover Festival. Simón was also a great inspiration to Jeffree and me in our starting Bamboo Living together.
Linda was thoughtful, kind, generous with her time, and always thinking strategically. She was wholly committed to bringing bamboo into mainstream use to stem the tide of deforestation and create a sustainable planet.
Some years later, another friend of Linda Garland, Melanie Arcudi, came to work for me on the bamboo projects and moved into my home on Maui. Sadly, Melanie contracted ovarian cancer. Being trained in Chinese Medicine herself, Melanie tried every alternative therapy and finally submitted to a regime of western treatments, but the cancer advanced. A few months before she passed, as her health was declining, Melanie spoke to me and said she would be needing 24-hour care soon and could she invite five of her closest friends to come and care for her during those last months. I said yes, of course.
Linda Garland was one of five amazing women who arrived to care for Melanie. The next two months were deeply bonding between us all. Melanie, a practicing Buddhist, kept an incredible attitude, laughing and joking right up to the last few days when she at last lost consciousness.
Like Linda Garland, Melanie was a larger-than-life personality and she stated with certainty, “I am going to give you a sign after I die.”
I was working in town at the office when Melanie passed but Linda was there by her side. I came home shortly and could feel Melanie’s presence still in the room. As a Buddhist, Melanie had asked that we leave her body in state as long as we were legally allowed. The morning after Melanie’s passing I went into her room to pay my respects before heading off to work. Her body lay there, but I did not feel her presence.
Sometime later in the day one of the women walked into Melanie’s room to find a ring of fire above Melanie’s head, but the flames were not burning her body. She ran to grab a fire extinguisher while another friend called the fire department. The fire extinguisher put out the flames but the fire department showed up shortly. A fireman raced to the door wielding an axe.
“Don’t go in there!” the friend cried, “There is a dead body in there!”
“That’s why we are here!” replied the fireman.
She explained that the fire had been put out and the firemen left once that was confirmed.
That night when I returned home from work I felt Melanie’s presence again in the room and there was a smirk on her face that was not there earlier that morning.
The fire had been caused by a silk scarf given Melanie as a gift that was draped above the head of her bed. A strong wind had entered the room and lifted the tip of the scarf to the top of a tall étagère where burned a votive candle. The silk had gone off like a fuse forming the halo of fire just before her friend entered the room.
When the funeral home did at last arrive to pick up Melanie’s body a day later, as Linda was zipping up the body bag, a large vase of flowers that had been in place above the head of Melanie’s bed came crashing to the floor, lifted by a sudden wind.
Linda and I laughed over dinner about how the dramatic signs matched Melanie’s personality. No small gestures.
The same can be said of Linda Garland!
Linda Garland was a force of nature, a strong breeze that blew through the lives of all of us working in bamboo. She was our Queen Bee, caring for the hive. Capable of directing all of us worker bees and always making sure there was plenty of honey, the sweetness she exuded and drew out of all of us.
I will miss her very much! I am forever indebted to her and will always love her dearly.
Her groundbreaking work is continuing through the efforts of her wonderful son, Arief. All of us who knew Linda Garland lost an icon as well as a friend with her passing.
God Bless You, Linda!
I know you are continuing to bless us!